Restaurant meals higher in calories than diners think

By Amy Wimmer Schwarb • Published: August 27th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

What’s for dinner?

Preparing meals at home can be difficult and time-consuming. Fast food can be easy but bad for you. Dining out in sit-down restaurants might seem like a good compromise.

But a restaurant meal can be just as unhealthy as fast food — and plumped with more calories than you might think. In fact, a new study shows that a single restaurant meal — not including the yummy add-ons like appetizers, drinks and desserts — sometimes supplies all the calories, fat and salt you need for an entire day.

Seventy-three percent of the meals calculated contained more than half of an average person’s recommended daily calories.

Chain restaurants aren’t necessarily the bad guys. The average calorie count for meals at local restaurants was marginally higher than those at the chains, partly because of portion sizes.

These findings are troubling because most people don’t understand what they’re eating. A separate study of fast food diners found that two-thirds of them underestimated their food’s calorie count. A quarter of them underestimated by more than 500 calories.

So how does a busy but well-intentioned eater kick the restaurant habit?

Experts say one of the most potent tools in your arsenal is planning ahead. Turn that nightly conversation into a weekly one. So instead of asking “Where do we want to eat tonight?” rephrase the question to “What should we plan to eat this week?”

Try methods that help you make the most of your time: Handle the time-consuming tasks of food preparation, such as shopping and chopping, on the weekends. Or prepare some foods ahead and store them in the freezer.

A bit of foresight can help you think of a restaurant as a destination for special moments, not moments of desperation.